09 August, 2013

Benthic samplers and sunshine

I'm Hannah and I'm a wildlife ecology grad from UW-Madison. It's been an awesome summer so far, and I can't believe that it is getting down to less than 3 weeks. The field work for my independent project should be starting soon (well hopefully..the weather has not been doing us any favors the past week). I hand-crafted 20 benthic samplers (imagine a lot of rebar and even more zipties), which I will set in Lake Myvatn to look at differences in zooplankton between gravely bottom and an oozey bottom. I will keep everybody posted on the results! 

  This picture was taken on August 7, which is the first day we saw sun in a week 
Claudio giving a presentation at the tourist center 
                                                        One of my benthic samplers
Emily, Devin, Cristina and Alex on our hike at Krafla 

30 July, 2013

Aloha, Bug Lovers!

In the past two months, I've measured the head capsules of hundreds of midges, eaten a boatload of Skyr, learned about four words in Icelandic, and become a proper hot spring snob. As I'm leaving Myvatn in a mere two weeks (!), I've decided to compile list of my favorite memories from this summer of science.

10) Learning to bake bread from the maestro himself.
9) Battling terns in the name of science.
 8) Climbing into a crack in the earth to find a thermal pool.

7) Sparring with the baddest sheep in the country: El Jefe.
6) Discovering that Icelanders LOVE American disco music.

5) The most spectacular view I have ever been privy to.
 4) Celebrating the marimo in style.

 3) The sights along the way during sticky card sampling.

2) Learning to talk to the midges.
 1) Hanging out with these kids!

Thanks to everyone who made this project possible-- this summer has taught me so much about ecological research, and I've loved getting to know everyone associated with the Myvatn Research Station. Bless bless!

28 July, 2013

Hanging with the archeologists, again

I couple of days ago, we got to spend a little time with our neighbors, the Archeology crew from CUNY, lead by Megan Hicks.  Megan and her colleagues had an open house last night at Laugar where I got to hear what they've been up to for the last several years - primary of which has been an excavation right behind the main house at Skutustadir near the Myvatn research station.  We've posted about our friends before, but this is the first time I got to meet Megan and crew.  Glad I did!

Among the cool things they showed me were these (likely) 14th c. bone playing dice (in almost perfect condition) they found in the middens (trash heap). It's fun to think about how they got there (maybe the dice weren't so lucky).

The site itself is really interesting and it was interesting to see the painstaking work that goes into a dig.

I am excited to see what else comes out.  They are just getting to the 940AD tephra layer - below that is the stuff just after initial settlement of Iceland.  More mysteries to be solved.

27 July, 2013

What goes around, comes around

Yup, seems like yesterday, but this is my 8th summer here at Myvatn, and what goes around comes around!  Upon returning to the lake I was greeted warmly by my friendly Tanytarsus midges who are making a glorious comeback.  Right on schedule, by the way.  Their bigger and bolder cousins, Chironomous showed up in all their glory in June (10th, I was told) with their big mating columns, but I missed that.

But, despite being virtually absent since last summer and earlier this spring, the Tanytarsus fogs are back.  The arctic terns are dive-skimming the water to pluck off the emerging adults.  The midge scum (pupal exuviae) are piling up on shore.  And this is only the beginning.

The midges have a 5-7 year cycle and this year reminds me very much of my first as second summers here (2006-7).  I predict that we will be reaching our peak likely in 2015 (to complement the 2008 peak) - but that means we will be in fine form next year as well.  I'll be looking forward to my 9th summer then.

Bless - Claudio

26 July, 2013

Hawaii = Iceland ... Maybe

To get to Iceland this year I had traveled from the sunny and warm Big Island of Hawaii, across 10 time zones, from 19N to 66N in latitude, and three days and 2 red-eyes later, to the northeastern coast of Iceland.  Where, to my surprise it was sunny and warm (70F!).

I had always thought of Iceland as a cold version of Hawaii, but the temperature threw me off!  In fact geologically, the two islands have much in common.  Both are sitting on a hot spot (a tear in the earth's crust) that bubbles up lava and ash and all sorts of other projectiles.  In Hawaii, large shield volcanoes are formed (Haleakala, Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea), Kilauea still active - sloping into the sea.

Kilauea last week.  Looks like some areas here in Iceland.
I couldn't resist: old Fiat out out to pasture here at Myvatn.
Here in Iceland too there are shield volcanoes.  One we can see from the station on a clear  day: Trolladyngja - loosely translates to "the troll's nest".  New earth and bare lava are everywhere, with a few plants making a valiant attempt to get a foothold.  In Hawaii plants grow a lot faster so forest quickly takes over.  Here in Iceland, heathlands are the name of the game in the lower areas and once upon a time, birch forests.  The birch is pretty much all gone from overharvesting, overgrazing and over-erupting all of which contribute mightly to major erosion issues.  Did I mention that growing seasons are short and temperatures low? Climate change may shift things a lot here.  Scientists have an eye on places like Iceland to be canaries in coal mine in terms of how our ecosystems will change as our earth heats up.

So clearly there are also differences between Hawaii and Iceland:

I thought I would start a list of the ones that I easily observed (some are more similar than others!:

Hawaii - Iceland

Seafood: Poke - Haukarl
Festive occasions: pork luau - boiled sheep's head
Farming: Parker Ranch Hawaii, largest ranch in the USA - Sheep everywhere
Farming: hothouse orchids - hothouse tomatoes
Geology: both have active volcanoes
Roads: Both have lots of dirt tracks and large monster-truck like SUVs 
Colonization: Both colonized by seafaring people on small sailboats in the late 9th, early 10th century.
Early settlers: ruled through local chiefdoms until unified by single leader.

Contribute your own please!

12 July, 2013

One year later...

Hello again, everyone! It's been a year since I first came to Myvatn, and I'm so glad to be back.

The past few weeks have been a flurry of activity as samples are coming in consistently and projects are taking off, but we managed to put in a few late evenings at the research station in order to take a little mid-summer break. Currently, Alex, Devin, Emily, and Hannah are adventuring in the east and the south of Iceland for a couple days while Kyle and I hold down the fort at Kalfastrond. Thus, it seems like the perfect time to recap what's been going on this summer!

Almost all of June was beautiful weather -- I heard someone say that it was unusual that Iceland would get the same weather for so long, much less good weather -- and we took advantage of it by being out in the field quite a bit. It was also pretty calm in terms of the wind, so everyone has spent at least a few days out on the lake between the routine sampling that we do on the lake and Hannah's project, which deals with the small crustaceans that live near the bottom of the lake. I have also been trying to grow algae in the lake using various materials, and have found that it can be quite the challenge to keep those little creatures happy! However, it seems like I have a clear winner (Plexiglass), although the company that I ordered materials from was a bit confused as to why I needed so many tiny pieces of Plexiglass :)

There are some pretty territorial Arctic terns on the lake that we distracted with oars and the grapple, because otherwise they would fly straight at our heads!
The past couple weeks have been a bit cold and drizzly, so we have had more time to process samples and look at some of the preliminary data that has come from independent projects. They're shaping up to be pretty interesting, and I bet some of them will make it onto Smidge of Midge in more detail later. Some of these projects also give us a good reason to do more exploring of the area around Myvatn; Devin is working at a nearby stream and Emily and Alex have been busy surveying a patch of native vegetation that has been "invaded" by a plant that has been introduced to Iceland.
The good weather also meant that the black flies were out, but Emily was ready for them! 

Devin's field site
This summer is flying by, but I couldn't have asked for better people to spend it with!

Until next time,


06 July, 2013

Missing Myvatn already

I came back to Madison this week, and I'm already missing Myvatn.  It's strange here: it gets dark at night, you can get lost in forests, it gets hot enough for water to come out of pores in your skin.

I'm really happy about how everything went in June.  We have a really great group of people, all fun, smart, creative, and diligent.  Everybody is doing an interesting project.  I just heard last night that Alex's study on butterworts, a carnivorous plant, took off dramatically this week (I missed it).  Everybody did a rapid survey, and preliminary results show advantages of living nearer to Myvatn, where midges provide huge carnivory opportunities.  Cool! 

I'll stay in touch with everybody – Skype is a good thing.  I'll just have to enjoy most of the pleasures of Myvatn vicariously.
The UW-Madison Myvatn contingent during an evening walk around Hverfjall: Hannah, Emily, Kyle, Cristina, Alex, and Devin.

One last sunset/sunrise at Kalfastrond.